Top Tags

Crain’s: Albany considers bill to pay live organ-donors’ costs

By Robin Schatz, 2/23/17

A new bill could make New York the first state in the country to directly compensate living organ donors—who typically donate a kidney or a portion of their liver to a transplant patient—for lost wages, child care and other expenses.

The Living Donor Support Act, introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Gottfried of Manhattan and Republican Sen. Kemp Hannon of Long Island, chair of the Senate Health Committee, has broad support from lawmakers. It already unanimously passed Hannon’s committee, and it has 18 Senate co-sponsors and 27 Assembly co-sponsors.

In addition to helping donors with expenses, the bill seeks to increase education about the option of living transplants for patients, who are disproportionately poor and members of minority groups.

“Our goal is to make transplants easy to ask for and easy to give,” said Josh Morrison, executive director and co-founder of Waitlist Zero, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that championed the bill. Morrison donated one of his own kidneys as a good Samaritan five years ago at the age of 26.

For dialysis patients in particular, getting a kidney transplant from a living donor could save money and improve their quality of life, but patients often aren’t informed of that option, Morrison said.

Acute organ shortage

Many state lawmakers and health care groups are rallying behind the cause because of some dire statistics. New York ranks 50th in the United States for organ-donation registration, according to LiveOn NY, the metropolitan region’s federally designated organ-procurement organization. A New Yorker dies about every 18 hours due to the lack of a transplant organ, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. While most organs are donated after a person’s death, increasing living donations is one way to address the acute shortage, advocates say.

The proposed legislation would cost the state about $3 million per year, and donors would receive on average about $4,400 each, according to Waitlist Zero.

If the bill becomes law, it could increase living organ donations in the state by 20%, saving 1,000 lives and $115 million in taxpayer expenses during the next decade, according to proponents’ estimates. It costs about $90,000 a year for dialysis treatments while a living organ transplant costs about $30,000 over five years, Morrison said. A kidney transplant lasts 14 years on average.

The proposed measure follows the passage of various laws last year to increase organ donations, including one that took effect last week allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register as organ donors.

New York is one of 20 states that currently offer a tax incentive for expenses related to living donations. A 2014 study showed the New York tax break increased kidney donations to nonrelatives by 52%.

But there are limits to the value of a tax deduction, Morrison said. Many people don’t have the cash flow to cover their costs until they file their tax returns, and their total tax liability to the state likely would not equal the costs incurred in becoming an organ donor, he said.

Paying donors for their expenses would broaden the pool and allow more lower-
income New Yorkers to participate.